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31st annual Seaver Lecture focuses on history of the automobile in Poland

Friday, February 15, 2019

LAWRENCE — Nathan Wood will be giving this year’s Seaver Lecture at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the Hall Center for the Humanities. Wood is an associate professor of history at the University of Kansas, and he will present “From ‘Machine Love’ to ‘Automobile Orgies’: Motoring in Poland, 1918 -1939.” 

This lecture will explore Poland’s automotive culture in the 1920s and '30s, looking at the attitudes of elite owners and drivers, chauffeurs, artists, filmmakers, writers and the public as they sought to understand the place of the automobile. While Futurists and artists worshipped the speed and power of the new machines, the public often bemoaned the “automobile orgies” that snarled big city streets and terrified people on country roads. Despite the efforts of inventors and enthusiasts, Poland had fewer cars per capita than most other European countries and never really developed its own automotive industry. Poland’s relative “backwardness,” however, is no reason to dismiss studying automobility there, and in fact may actually make it more emblematic of the way that most of us experience modernization and technology: As a race that we feel compelled to participate in, but can rarely win. Poles, like others in the Machine Age, tried to work out the relationship between humans and technology, and their sensation of backwardness and rushing forward occasionally inclined them to surprising ideas, including a cyborg reconciliation of humanistic and technophilic visions of the future, as found in Jerzy Sosnkowski’s novel, "Auto, Ty i Ja" (The Auto, You, and I).

The Seaver Lecture gives KU faculty the opportunity to present their research related to “continuing issues in Western civilization.” As the world looks toward the future of the automobile with self-driving cars, Wood’s interdisciplinary approach to automobile history makes his talk a good fit for the Humanities Program’s Seaver Lecture.

The Seaver Lecture is sponsored by the Humanities Program and co-sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities.


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